AKRON, Ohio -- The inventor of the widely-marketed anti-car theft device called 'The Club' has filed a lawsuit, demanding his fair share of the profits.
The suit, filed in Akron's U.S. District Court by Charles Johnson of Aurora, seeks half of the profits of the device, plus at least $10 million in punitive damages.
James Winner Jr., the man he is suing, claimed Johnson signed away his rights and developed a competing product.
The Club, advertised heavily on national television, is a device designed to prevent or discourage automobile theft by locking the steering wheel with a brightly-painted metal bar that spans the wheel when the car is not in use.
Winner, of Sharon, Pa., claimed Johnson signed away his rights and that The Club -- in its final form -- is his invention. Winner said without his own marketing expertise, the product first conceived by Johnson would not have been marketable.
The trial started Tuesday before Judge David Dowd.
One of Johnson's lawyers, Terry Goggin, said his client is a dyslexic who can barely read, but that he has other gifts, most notably a strong mechanical aptitude that has allowed him to invent several products, including The Club.
Goggin said Johnson trusted Winner, and relied on his description of a document he asked him to sign. Winner allegedly told Johnson the document was only a summary of their verbal agreement that was prepared for a bank. Goggin said the verbal agreement stipulated Johnson was to receive half of any profits.
But one of Winner's lawyers, James McConomy, said Johnson sought the written agreement in 1985, that he discussed it with Winner and knew precisely what it contained.
Goggin said Johnson invented The Club after his father-in-law's automobile was stolen from Randall Park Mall near Cleveland. He said his client has conceived other products, such as an electronic dipstick that allows drivers to monitor their engine's oil supply without having to lift the hood of the car.
Although during his opening statement McConomy conceded Johnson had not received substantial money for his invention, the defense lawyer said the idea had been around since 1920 and the only truly patentable aspect of Johnson's idea was a lock on the bar.
Dowd has ordered the trial be split into two segments. The current phase will only determine liability. Only if the jury finds in favor of the plaintiff will the case proceed to determine damages.